When Melanie Dower (pictured) relocated from Auckland, New Zealand to Helsinki, Finland to join her husband in his dream job, it turned her whole world upside down. Here, on the other side of the globe, she struggled to find a job on par with her previous field as she wasn’t fluent in Finnish, Russian or Estonian. But one thing she did possess was writing experience from her NGO support job and another important asset. She was a native English speaker.
“I’d always enjoyed writing, although I had dropped out of a Communications Degree 16 years before,” Melanie says. However, she wasn’t finding success in pitching stories to editors. That’s when she sought out a course at the Australian Writers’ Centre.
New skills in new places
“I needed to work on my skill set. So I enrolled in the course Magazine and Newspaper Writing Stage 1 at AWC and found it really useful,” she says. Armed with this practical knowledge and further study through the Travel Writing course, she started to sell stories to magazines back in New Zealand and write for a new website, Creating Helsinki, alongside local photographer Laura Iisalo. It was here that Melanie’s newly learnt interviewing skills come to the fore, as she steadily built up a portfolio interviewing local creative people in her new hometown.
“I recommend AWC courses to friends because you can do them online from anywhere in the world. The tips are practical and useful and the content is prepared and presented by people working successfully in the business.” Other projects followed, and her ability to pitch effectively and know what editors were looking for helped to pinpoint a successful pitch for a 16-page spread in Urbis design magazine.
Melanie has since become somewhat of an ‘expat expert’ on Helsinki. Alongside her photographer friend Laura, Melanie created a beautiful 200-page city guide and has recently released a book called Helsinki – People Make the City, filled with her interviews and an insider’s guide to the Nordic way of life.
“To finally hold the finished version in my hand was a great feeling and I nearly cried with joy,” she recalls. For someone who had never quite got over the guilt and sense of failure from not completing her degree, it was a turning point. She could now call herself a writer. “If I don’t call myself a writer, who will?”
The perfect Finnish
When Melanie first made a start on her Finnish adventure, she didn’t realise she would ever publish a book. And now she is more focused than ever on improving her craft. In particular, it was the accessibility of the online courses she did at the Australian Writers’ Centre that gave her the confidence she needed to succeed on the other side of the planet.
Melanie says: “The value for money and chance to reinvent or enhance your career is priceless.”